Taos is mainly known for its art community, the Pueblo, skiing, and stunning scenery. But once, an evil man lived in Taos. He went by the name of Arthur Rocheford Manby.
Manby had read in British newspapers about rich resources and opportunities in the untamed Territory of New Mexico. But, once he arrived there, he spent the next 20 years acquiring properties by conning, stealing, lying, begging, and bribing Native Americans and Spanish families. He aggressively sought investors from England, New York, Chicago, and Maryland, promising profits on investors’ money. He founded four corporations that served primarily as financial fronts, often to defraud investors. Manby’s ultimate goal was to obtain the vast Antonio Martinez Land Grant (61,605.48 acres) near Taos.
In 1913, Manby finally acquired 58,867 acres of the Land Grant that included the hot springs on the Rio Grande. It was his plan to build a grand hotel and gardens at the hot springs. But instead, Manby used the investors’ money to improve his personal estate rather than improve land grant properties. As transcribed in a 2017 Taos News article entitled “Taos’ Unsolved Mystery: The Fallen Emperor,” the New Mexico State Archives search reveals at least 30 filings for civil or criminal cases associated with Arthur Manby between 1902-1913.
Within three years, the Land Grant was sold at public auction due to Manby’s debt growth. However, he retained the 23 acres of land that included his hacienda and its surrounding gardens. He became more bad-tempered and elusive, basically hiding in his hacienda.
In December of 1919, Mable Dodge Stern and her husband Maurice Stern appeared at Manby’s front door and asked to rent his home, to which he agreed. A friendship of sorts developed between Mabel and Manby. She respected his architectural skill and tasteful gardens and loved the hot springs. However, she eventually became wary of Manby and moved out once she and Lujan built their own home near the Taos Pueblo.
Manby was characterized as having a brilliant mind, refined taste, and an appreciation of the visual beauty of the Taos Valley. But, on the other hand, he was devious, calculating, greedy, manipulating, and a murderer. He was a loner and had few if any friends in Taos.
Manby’s body was found in 1929 when a US Deputy from Santa Fe tried to serve legal papers related to a lawsuit. When no one answered, the Deputy went to the courthouse in Taos Plaza and asked the Taos Deputy Sheriff if anyone had seen Manby. Apparently, the Taos Deputy Sheriff was told that Manby was likely dead because of flies swarming on his screen door.
The end result was that these two law officers, plus others who appeared at Manby’s residence, found his body in one of the front rooms of the house and his head in the adjoining room along with his German police dog. It was rapidly concluded that Manby died of natural causes, assuming that the dog had chewed off Manby’s head.
Manby was buried that same day at the back of his property. The gruesome story of Manby’s death soon reached national headlines, accompanied by questions concerning the manner of his death and the authenticity of the body. In response to letters from Manby’s family and the British consulate, the New Mexico Governor R.C. Dillon had Manby’s body exhumed in late 3 August 1929. Experts (Manby’s dentist, a blacksmith, a detective sent by the Federal government, and Doc Martin) concluded:
- That the body was indeed that of Manby, identifying his dentures and jewelry.
- That he had been shot numerous times in the chest and face.
- That his head had been severed from his body with a sharp object.
Manby was later reburied at his current gravesite just outside of Kit Carson Cemetery. While people were questioned about the murder, the case was dropped in 1930. But was this really Manby’s body? A set of presumably Manby’s dentures was found at Manby’s bedside by a private detective hired by the Attorney General of New Mexico ~ July 9th, 1929, and the dentist who identified Manby’s body by his dentures in August later recanted his story. But, unfortunately, Doc Martin destroyed his autopsy results because the state never paid him. And, there were reports that Manby was sited both in Mexico and Italy after his “death.” So, the mystery continues on.